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

26 Things I Learned by the Time I Turned 26

Last year was the birthday where I was due for a midlife crisis. Instead of freaking out, I looked back and thought about what I’ve accomplished during my time here on Earth. This year, as I creep up on the dark side of my 20’s, is the first time I’ve ever felt the feeling of– “ew, I don’t want to be 26.” Ten years ago I was having a ball at my sweet 16, and today, I’m falling asleep before 11pm with Gold Bond foot cream next to my bed (..I wish this was an exaggeration).

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On the bright side, I’ve collected some tidbits of wisdom over the years, so respect your elders & read on…

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  • Don’t be afraid to take the spotlight. Growing up, I was the most introverted little girl you could have ever met. My confidence has grown out of recognizing my strengths, and not being afraid to say, “I’ve got this.” Establish yourself within your field of expertise as a leader, a role model, and a teacher.
  • Ask for help. No one person is the absolute best at anything. As Bill Withers once sang, we all need somebody to lean on. Whether it’s help taking in the trash, or with making a big time decision, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Send thank you notes. Our world has quickly turned digital, which makes getting a thank you card in the mail THAT much more special. Don’t neglect to show appreciation in a meaningful way.
  • Keep an open mind. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. If you’re rigid in your mindset, your more likely to break. Keep an open mind and go with the flow, while still paddling in your intended direction.
  • Always give 110%. Whatever you are, be a good one. If you’re an ice cream man, be the best damn ice cream man you could be. It doesn’t matter what you do, do it will all of your heart

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  • There is no occasion that calls for white framed sunglasses. Or anything Ed Hardy.
  • You are more than your circumstances. What you have lived through does not define you. Don’t use your past as an excuse, use it to propel you forward.
  • Drink water. Lots & lots of it. Hydration is no joke, no one wants to feel like a wrung out sponge.
  • Practice being a good listener. This is easier said than done. Listen beyond the words of what others are saying, and try to be in tune with their emotion.
  • Forgive, but don’t forget. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, then I just got got. Don’t carry around the burden of a grudge, just let it go and know better next time.

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  • Value your education. Don’t go to school just to go to school. Sink your teeth into every last lesson, and find ways to make that knowledge applicable to your life.
  • Recognize that everything is a learning opportunity. A negative situation feels a lot less negative when you pick apart what you have learned from it.
  • Don’t let money be your motivation. If your eye is only on the dollar sign, you will miss out on so much more. If you work hard, you can make a living doing what you love– despite what the Negative Nancy’s of the world have to say.
  • You don’t have to please everybody. Not everyone will be in your corner, and that’s okay. It’s impossible to make everybody happy with every decision that you make. Be your best self, and that is enough.
  • Set attainable goals… and then crush them. A dream without a plan is just a wish. Make your goals measurable, that way you can track your progress on the road to greatness.

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  • Any chance you get to travel, take it. There’s so much to be learned from the world and those living in it. It’s the only way to stretch your imagination completely outside of its bounds.
  • Travel solo. It’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it’s probably the most empowering thing you’ll ever do.
  • Have situational awareness. There are certain sights and sounds that should trigger red flags in your mind like, “don’t walk down that street” or “maybe I should take a cab.” Listen to your inner voice.
  • Talk to strangers. This goes against everything we’ve learned as a child. But, if you don’t talk to strangers, how do you make new friends? Naturally, be aware of how much information you give during a conversation. But don’t be afraid to spark up some chit chat with someone new.
  • Know what you don’t know. And ask questions to those who do. That’s what learning is all about.

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  • Stay cool. Don’t lose your temper, despite how aggravating a circumstance can be.
  • There is value in having hard copies. Don’t lose your printed photographs in this digital world. I still prefer a hard copy of a book over a kindle.
  • Carry a journal with you. When I’m out dining solo, I’d rather be the girl writing in a journal than the one that’s on her phone.
  • Enjoy good food. Don’t feel guilty about every calorie you consume, but also don’t eat processed foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Take pride in the food that you prepare, and put into your body.
  • All of the best activities make you sweat. Find the workout that works best for you. Some people hate running (present company included). That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other ways to get your heart rate up.

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And finally, the 26th most important life lesson I’d like to share with you: live every damn day like you can die tomorrow.. because as morbid as it is, you can. That’s the only thing we’re guaranteed in this life, and yet we act as if we’re invincible. This isn’t an excuse to make frivolous decisions, but a wake up call to remind you to do more than just exist. The world is spinning and none of us are getting any younger, so carpe the hell out of every diem.

Lessons Learned from Animals on an African Safari

Albert Einstein once said, “look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”


If we were to rewind back to the 90’s…

Lil Lauren was adjusting her butterfly hairclips before school, watching Zooventure on Animal Planet. The thought of going on an African safari was a distant dream, but one that has been fueling with desire since I was a little girl. I’ve always loved animals, and wondered what it would be like to experience them in their natural habitat.

My travels have taken me to zoos and aquariums throughout the country– from Omaha’s Henry Doorly to California’s Aquarium of the Pacific. The opportunity to visit a South African National Park was one that I could not possibly pass up!

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During my stay at the Black Rhino Lodge, we went out into Pilanesberg National Park for both morning and evening game drives. Whether the sun had just risen or was turning in for the night, mother nature blessed us with some beautiful views and animal action!


Here are some life lessons I learned from these beautiful (and not so attractive) creatures…

1.

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Does this mud bath make me look fat…? An African Bush Elephant can weigh up to 13,000 lbs! And yet, a herd of 30+ were walking right along side of our jeep at an inaudible pace. I was surprised to learn how easily an elephant can sneak up on you! While you may not hear an elephant stomping towards you, you can certainly feel their majestic presence.

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Before we went out on our first drive, my ranger said – when you get so close to an elephant, you know what a safari is all about. We were a jeep of 10 humans, outnumbered by elephants (and elephant babies!) in the middle of a dirt road. I was a visitor on their turf, as they just went on with their daily business.

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The massive stature of an elephant brings upon a sense of awe. You know what they say, speak softly and carry a big stick. Well, elephants walk softy and carry a big… tusk. Humans could learn a thing or two from these bold creatures. Personally, I have a hard time listening to the loudest person in the room. What they have in volume, they often lack in content. While the elephant in the room may be the most apparent, it will not be the loudest.


2.

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For 40 minutes, we sat and watched a lioness hunt her pray- a group of zebra (which is called a dazzle.. fun fact!). She must have been stalking this group for quite some time before we arrived. The unsuspecting group trotted across the road, like a traveling buffet. The lioness sat, still, within the shadow, with ears back, hiding her stature.

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The lioness sat without movement as the dazzle grazed around her, but she did not pounce. You would think that with this relative closeness, the cat would make her move. But we learned that a hunt is just as dangerous for the predator as it is for the victim. If the lioness were to trip on the rocky surface, she is outnumbered by these powerful zebra that could easily kick her while she’s down (quite literally) to her death. So she waits. And waits, and waits, and waits, until the perfect moment to strike.

And we would have waited with her…. but breakfast was calling our names.


3.

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A rhino’s skin can be as thick as 2 inches! But despite their thick skin, they’re sensitive creatures. Rhinos like this guy in the picture love their mud baths, which help protect their skin from the sun and from bug bites (which are just as irritating for animals as they are for humans). If a rhino is walking along and gets scraped by a thorn in the bush, they’ll feel it!

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As humans, we build up our metaphorical thick skin over time. This coping mechanism allows us to withstand whatever negativity is thrown our way. Those with thick skin are tough, and can withstand criticism much more effectively than those who take everything to heart. But, we must not allow our skin to become so thick that we are completely callous. Even a rhino can feel the scrape of a thorn on its thick skin.


4. 

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The Big 5 gets all of hype! In the bush, we learned about the Ugly 5..

  • Hyenas
  • Marabou Stork
  • Vultures
  • Warthogs
  • & The Wildebeest

Now, Hyenas and Vultures are named on this ugly list not only for their appearance, but for their predatory, scavenging ways.

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The Wildebeest is something the French would call jolie-laide.. or, so ugly it’s cute. You forget about their awkward statue and patchy facial hair when you see them trotting along side their pal, the impala.

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Beauty goes far beyond looks. Don’t let the haters bring you down, Wildebeest. While you may seem a bit disproportionate, or made from “spare parts”, you’re a delightful creature to be around and were put into this world for a reason.

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We’re all felt like the Wildebeest at one point or another. Not as beautifully patterned as the Zebra. Not as graceful as the Cheetah. But, when you learn to love its uniqueness, you can see what a beautiful beast the Wildebeest is!


5. 

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Our ranger, Darrell, spotted this bird in his peripheral while rushing back to the lodge for breakfast. He quickly put the jeep in reverse, and parked us in front of this colorful beauty. Ruffling through his copy of “A Bird Guide”, he opens to the page that exhibits the Lilac Breasted Roller. Although this bird is aesthetically pleasing, its call is quite ugly. In contrast, the melodious calls you often hear, come from the most mundane looking fowl.

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Referred to by Darrell as “the most beautiful bird in Africa”, the Lilac Breasted Roller is also a part of Zulu folklore. Before a couple were to be married, they must be tied together by the elongated tale feathers of this bird. If the knot became untied, they were no longer granted permission to be married. It is rumored that this is where the phrase “tying the knot” came from!


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Visiting Pilanesberg fulfilled all of my wildest dreams, quite literally!

While this may have been my first time on the African continent, I know it will hardly be the last. As a long time animal lover, I’ve always had much respect for these beautiful creatures. But, this trip has opened my eyes to the world of wildlife preservation. Poaching is a terrible reality, and a deadly crime. Drought is another plague that haunts not only the wildlife, but the humans of this environment. We must not take for granted the luxuries we have access too. What we consider to be every day norms is somebody else’s dream.

Albert Einstein was right.

Looking deep within nature helps us to look deep within ourselves. Every one, and every thing, has a story. Whether or not we are open minded enough to learn their story is up to us.

A Slice of Life: Confessions of a Deli Diva

For the past 12 weeks, I’ve been slicing, preparing, and creating works of sandwich art.

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If you think working at a deli can only teach your how to master the art of the panini – you’re missing the bigger picture. Sure, my panini making skills have vastly improved, but here are some more important slices of life:

Power of Preparation

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The key to deli success- preparation. Without it, you are fighting a losing battle. This is no different than success in life. Without preparation– physical, mental & emotional– it just isn’t possible to successfully overcome whatever life is throwing at you. Always make sure you’ve got your tomatoes and lettuce sliced and ready to go!

“It’s just food.“

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This was the first bit of deli wisdom imparted onto me (…thanks Stove). Don’t lose sight of what you’re doing. When you’re stressed out, break the situation down to its most basic form. If you make a mistake, it’s okay. We live, we learn, we make more sandwiches.

Learn people’s names

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No matter what you’re doing, if you’re seeing people on a regular basis– learn their name. And call them by their name. This works both ways! When a customer calls me Lauren, I feel acknowledged as a human. We have a psychological need to be connected, and learning names is step one.

Sleep Well

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Don’t ever underestimate the power of sleep. Breakfast doesn’t cook itself, and a deli diva needs beauty sleep. Sacrifice late nights for days where you won’t be miserably sleep deprived. Learn to manage your time correctly. There’s plenty of time to work hard & play hard.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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Moods are contagious, so be in a good one! Be genuine, and spread good vibes! They go a long way. There’s a quote that says, “the grumpier you are, the more assholes you meet.” Yes, there will always be assholes. However, a smile will get you a lot further than a puss. (An all day smile is impossible to maintain without a goodnights sleep… see step 4)

This job was not anywhere near my comfort zone. I went from dance teacher to deli diva, pushing me to overcome my fears of slicers and liverwurst (…thanks Will). Embrace uncomfortable situations– they give you opportunities to grow in ways you wouldn’t imagine, meet amazing people, and gain appreciation for things, places, and services you normally take for granted!