New York Layover

Secretly I’ve always looked forward to having a long connection and pulling a Tony Bourdain style Layover (slightly drunk and full of food). So when I saw that I’d be spending 21 hours in Newark Int. Airport I immediately decided to train into the city for a few hours and play tourist.

Coffee on the Highline

It was a gloomy morning as I trained over from Newark to Penn Station, so I was nervous that I’d have to change my plans of exploring the Highline, a one mile above ground park and art installation, but the rain cleared up as a made my way over the few blocks to the entrance. I grabbed a warm coffee to beat the chilly wind and started wandering. Being a Sunday morning the Highline was already filled with people.

There were tourists speaking in French and Portuguese, young New Yorkers gathered for gossip, and families chasing their kids off benches and flower beds. It was a perfect place for people watching.

The Whitney Museum of American Art

I’m an art museum enthusiast. I love them. I love to get that $6 audio guide and wander around quietly looking at art for several hours. So when I asked around for things to do on my short layover and Ana mentioned that there was a new art museum it instantly became the focal point of my adventure.

And as fortune would have it, The Whitney happens to be located exactly at the end of the Highline! I arrived at the entrance just before noon and was surprised to get my tickets and get in right away (I had read that the lines get to be hours long).

Some of the highlights of this museum are Jackson Pollack and Archibald Motley – two extremely famous American artists.

Chelsea Market

After spending 2 or 3 hours wandering the museum I was suddenly overcome by how hungry I was, so I hopped out onto the streets to follow the highline back towards Penn Station and try to find Chelsea Market, a famous indoor shopping mall and food court of sorts.

It was food heaven! Everything you could ever want, but with no where to sit down and all decorated for Halloween. I ended up finding a vegan juice bar where I grabbed a cold pressed green juice and kept wandering. “Wandering” was sort of the theme of the day.

Empire State Building & Local Brewery

After finding myself back at Penn Station with at least 3 full hours left until my train to the airport I consulted Google maps & decided to try out the Empire State Building. Somehow I’ve been to NYC twice before this and never been there before. Unfortunately the line was about an hour and a half long and the cost is around $50, so I waved at it as I went by and popped into a brewery in its shadow to toast the day. And finally to eat something (amazing  veggie burger).

All in all it was a beautiful Sunday in New York City. The weather was perfect, the people were out, and things were good. I ended up walking just shy of 10 miles that day! Perfect before a 16 hour flight to New Delhi🙂

Why This Steak-And-Potatoes Raised Gal is Going Vegan

(Technically this topic is not related to travel, but if you give me a chance I’ll explain how travel has led me to this moment. )

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The more of this world I see the more I come to love and appreciate it. I have gone diving off the coast of Thailand, trekked through rice patty covered mountains in northern Vietnam, and taken a midnight swim through an ocean filled with bioluminescent plankton that looked like stars in Cambodia. Every sunrise through the jungle and sunset over white capped, salt water horizons has transfixed and transformed me forever.

Other than a deepened appreciate for nature, travel has also strengthened my understanding of myself. Since returning from my first solo travel adventure I feel less shackled by a need to conform or fit in, explain or justify myself. This has led me down some paths of personal curiosity that I may not have been brave enough to explore before, being too concerned with what certain lifestyle choices “said about me”.

One of those lifestyle choices (as I’m sure you’ve garnered from the title of this post) is to eliminate meat and dairy products from my diet. This decision did not come all at once. It has been growing within me for almost six months now.

Re-reading my travel journals from Cambodia I was surprised to find a quick note at the bottom corner of a page that read, “Considering going veggie” all the way back in May. I’m not sure what inspired me to write that, but now several months later I am happy to be able to better articulate what has brought me to this point.

So here are five reasons I’ve decided to go vegan.

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New Travel Gadget & The Next Adventure

I got a Chromebook!

This post is coming to you fresh from my new Toshiba Chromebook, purchased earlier this afternoon at Best Buy. As I near a new adventure it has become clear to me that I need to be more committed to this blog, and that means having a way to more efficiently connect and write i.e. a keyboard.

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How travel helped me overcome depression and anxiety

Since I was legally able to work, just after I turned 15, I have been working full time. At 25 the lifestyle of being constantly on the move, full of drive and ambition, always making time for everyone and everything except myself, rarely sleeping and partying too much reached a breaking point. I suddenly looked around one day and thought, “who am I doing this for?”.

I was miserable. I hated my job, I was drinking too much (and often on my own after coming home from work), I felt trapped in the small town I grew up in and I dreamed of a different life. I had woven an image of who I was and when I looked in the mirror alone at night I could no longer deny that it was all a lie. On the outside Reyna was a successful young professional with a strong network of friends and family. She was outgoing and fun and quick witted and always charming. At home I was a drunken recluse who was finding it increasingly difficult just to get out of bed in the morning. I came up with every excuse to work from home or leave the office early. All I wanted to do was drink enough wine to fall asleep watching a documentary on netflix. I was depressed. I had social anxiety. And instead of dealing with it I was just covering it up, pushing past it, pretending everything was fine. I honestly believe to this day that I could have continued this way for a long time. That’s how good I was at the lie.

In other words, no one was coming to save me.

And afterall, why should they? I had created this life and spun myself into it with enormous sophistication. I’d been at it for a long time and I was very good at isolating my true self and true feelings from the outside world. Vulnerability wasn’t part of my vocabulary.

I needed to change. Big change. The life change kind, the self change kind.

I didn’t like my life and I didn’t like myself.

So I started to make some tough, but necessary choices. Many of the people in my life didnt understand, but those who truly know and love me supported me without needing an explanation. I think they felt it. I think they saw it in my face.

So what does this have to do with traveling, and did I really need to quit my job, sell my house and things, and jet off to Asia to overcome depression? Yes. Absolutely. And I’ll tell you why.

Many of the pillars of my life in Tempe, the things that defined my identity here, do not fit in a 55L backpack. Superficial things like pride: pride of home ownership and pride in my fancy job title. I was materialistic, addicted to buying things I didn’t need on Amazon because I got them shipped for free on Prime. I was bordering on being an Alcoholic, consistently spending more on wine than on produce. I was judgemental, always asking people what they did and grilling them about their professional goals. I was insecure, wearing too much makeup, feeling fat, and boasting how “confident” I was.

Traveling (or more specifically long term traveling, such as backpacking) is an inherently raw and simplistic way of living. Your entire life is whittled down to a small pile of things you can carry on your back. Talk about vulnerability. It forces you to live a life of experience over things. There just isn’t room for anything else.

I believe that my previous materialism and hyper-consumer lifestyle fueled my depression and made me feel inadequate. I was trying to find fulfillment and satisfaction outside myself, but the harder I tried the worse it got. I was never stylish enough, fit enough, smart enough no matter how much I bought, how many times I went to the gym, how many sales I closed.

What traveling gave me was time. Time for introspection, time to get to know myself, time to explore what makes me happy.

I had never done that before.

It changed my life.

Being back in Arizona over the past few months has been difficult for me. I still feel the ghost of myself here, and I have to fight to find acceptance for her, for that person I used to be. I try not to be ashamed of that part of my life. Most days it’s hard to do.

But even more so I fight the urge to justify myself. Being here brings back so much anxiety about having a “plan”. I don’t feel the need to have a plan. I feel the need to continue to live a happy and fulfilling life. I feel the need to continue to know myself and be true to that. I feel the need to see the world and meet the people in it.

Those are the things I try to focus on. Anything else is a waste of time, and I’m done with wasting my time for the sake of other people.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was admit to myself that I was depressed. To face my axiety and stress. I didn’t want it to be real. I was afraid of what that would mean, or what that would say about me.

There is still too much stigma against these kinds of conversations. You can change your life. There is hope.

Maybe traveling isn’t the answer for everyone. For me it was something Id always dreamed of doing but never believed was possible. I didn’t believe that my life could be whatever I wanted. I didn’t take responsibility for my life, and I made excuses for why I was stuck doing whatever I was doing.

If you want to change your life, do it. Truly evaluate what is holding you back.

If you want to find happiness, do it. Go out and find it. Make it your mission. Your very life depends on it.

San Diego, California

Ah breezy San Diego.. what a beautiful and funny little town. All of my memories of San Diego float with the faces of girlfriends and good times.

I’ve just returned from a long Bachelorette weekend (my second in the city this year as a matter of fact) and it was quite possibly one of the most fun getaways I’ve ever had. For starters, I consider the bride one of my closest friends and being as she moved out to this beachy place right around the time I up and quit my life I hadn’t seen her in a while. I missed her infectious cackle laugh!

For going out at night there are two options: the downtown “Gaslamp” district where you can find a cornucopia of styles and vibes and get crazy while bar hopping all night, or you can go low key in Pacific Beach – or just PB to the locals – and do much the same (only with shorts and flip flops instead of a slut costume on). Being chill ladies we opted for the latter.

Saturday morning came quickly with a rhino herd of hangovers over all of us. We fixed bad coffee and bacon and groaned about our heads while laughing at pictures and videos from the night before. Being a group of nine (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) not all incidents were seen by all ladies, rather our pink and laughter filled molecule cloud circled our bridal nucleus bouncing this way and that without so much as a wave to the others. We all had unexpressed missions, as all drunk people do, and this was a group accustomed to getting it’s way. This meant in short, utter chaos. Men took their shirts off, drinks were bought, shots taken. One man gave us his Calvin Klein underwear, a glance at which the bride promptly tossed it into a crouded dance floor apparently attempting to reteach themselves or others how to do the Dougie.

It took all weekend for these stories to go around the group, each time someone learning of it new we chimed in with our piece of the story as if offering up a missing puzzle piece to be placed.

This all happened between bacon, turns at the showers, fat jokes, and one emergency trip to the ER for a bag of fluids. We don’t mess around.

So less than 24 hours in and it’s already a highly successful Bachelorette party. Next step to greatness? Get on a giant sailboat.

More to come!

Roadtripping Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado

The American Southwest is a breathtaking place that waits for no one. The landscape is wild, vast and intimidating. Every crevice and crack in the trees is hiding an animal – elk, deer, antelope, beevers, squirrels, even bears. The sky is massive, bigger than any beach sunset that’s ever dazzled your eyes, and the roads feel endless.

The people here live a slower life than most places I’ve been. Closer to the drifting river paces of third world cultures than the cities of technology most of us are used to. Small towns pock mark and rule the countryside. People know each others names, wear their hair in old 60’s ponytails, and decorate houses with ragged wagons wheels and no sense of irony.

There are very few radio stations on the drive and even less service. We don’t mind because the landscape is a thrilling, albeit slowly changing, movie in itself. The times we came across anything other than grass or mountains it was like entering a long awaited dream. Are we really looking at miles and miles of giant radio dishes like in the movie Contact with Jodie Foster? Right here in the middle of no where New Mexico? We had to stop. It was the first sign of human intelligence outside our cab for 200 miles and it was awesome.

Minus a few sideways adventures – running out of gas once outside of Santa Fe where an organic garlic farmer bailed us out after we waited for him to finish using a tractor to mow his neighbors lawn, and me ending up in the hospital after an exciting horseback riding lesson on Buster the family horse – all went smoothly and peacefully.

My dad and I spent every evening with binoculars to our eyes searching or “glassing” for wild animals, but more often just pointing out interesting geography. One camp spot had a lot of caves across the river and we imagined gold and riches hidden there and ancient Indian writings that illustrated their friendship with alien races or a family of mountain lions putting their cubs to bed high on the cliffs. Not that we saw anything like that.

Usually at this point we’d both be getting a little drunk and I’d realize with a start that I’d better make some food before things got soggy. Bedtime was early because it doesn’t take long for the Milky Way to come out after the sun drops when you’re so far out of town. Have you ever truly seen the night sky? It literally brought me to tears, though if I’m honest the wine had something to do with it.

Roadtripping with my dad filled my days in a way I’ve always loved to spend them – Indulging heavily in the beauty and simplicity of nature, sometimes with a glass of wine in my hand. It was lazy in almost every sense of the word. I read at least three books. I sat on my butt and ate too much for eight hours a day. I felt calm and grounded and thoroughly pleased with myself. No guilty conscience here. It’s still about slowing the soul after all.

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Tempe, Arizona

I am home. Three small little words that don’t quite mean what they used to. In a literal sense that’s because I sold my home, crashing out in my parents old office, and metaphorically because home isn’t a tangible place – rather a place you choose for yourself, something I don’t yet have.

But I’m back where I grew up in every sense of things, reconnecting with friends and family. I don’t see myself staying here for long. It’s temporary, I just don’t know what will come next yet.

I notice so many things here I didn’t before. The excess and culture. The sadness and joy. I see a lot of people not living the lives they want to lead. I see a lot of people resigned to complacency. I want to ask them, “is this really enough for you?” Because when I look around and ask it of myself I choke out a NO before I can even blink.

I’m heading on a road trip with my dad tomorrow. We’ll be off to Colorado, taking our time to get there. The whole trip should be at least a week or 10 days.

After that I’ll spend a long weekend in San Diego celebrating a friends Bachelorette party. Maybe afterward I’ll drive up the coast a bit and see San Francisco.

The end of August I fly to Massachusetts for a beautiful Cape Cod wedding with old family friends and spend a few extra days with my family.

Soon after that I’ll be in Temecula, CA in wine country for three days (another wedding) and finally at the very end of September I’ll stand next to one of my oldest and closest friends (practically a sister to me) and wear a gown and a smile while she says “I Do”.

With so much love to celebrate in the coming months I must reluctantly admit I’m happy to be back. I left a very happy piece of my heart in Asia and it dug it’s old roots into me too. Three months is pretty quick for a love affair, but I’ll never forget it, and I’ll never be the same.

An old friend of mine messaged me recently to say that my journey inspired her to go on her own solo travel adventure. Nothing in the world could have made me happier than hearing that.

After all, “if we were meant to stay in one place we’d have roots instead of feet.”

Considering the Ocean

Ko Tao, Thailand 

I’ve logged eleven dives over the past week and today is my first day not in the water. I miss it, but my body is glad for the rest and my mind is glad for the sleep. I’m sitting on a balcony where I’ve been more or less since I woke up two hours ago. It’s 9:30 am and I can’t seem to leave this spot because it’s beautiful and peaceful and quiet and I have a full mind.

A scuba thought I had yesterday is stuck in my head, “No one ever asked a fish what they want to do with their life”. Humans are such assholes,  amirite? It’s pretty upsetting to watch how we treat the world and then spend all our time worrying about how much money we have or who liked our post on Facebook or what we look like. I feel very connected to life when I’m underwater. There’s a lot of it to look at around here.

A kid in my room joined me for the sunset yesterday and opened up about his history of depression, anxiety and suicide attempts. He has really struggled while traveling, being forced to overcome fears like sharing a bathroom or a bedroom or making friends. He said its really helped him to be here, making his way around and finding confidence and independence. He’s finally happy to be alive to see that sunset. It was a really wonderful story.

Why do we travel? We all have different reasons, but the experience bonds us together. What an amazing thing, really, getting so far out of your comfort zone. A lot of growth happens in the deep end. It takes a lot of bravery to get there though.

I might spend the rest of my day on this balcony on the beach. I might spend the rest of my life on balconies on beaches.

It’s a beautiful day.

Its Almost Over

Somehow I’ve left the blog completely in ththe dark on my favorite country of the trip. Since May 29th when I arrived in Saigon ive visited something like 10 cities in Vietnam, barely stopping to sleep much less sit down to write and process what ive experienced.

I have been to Ho Chi Minh, Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang (for six hours), Hoi An, Hue, Phong Nha, Hanoi, Sapa, and Halong Bay. I am exhausted and I am happy. I’m in a weird mood today.

It’s coming to an end as I sit here sipping coffee and eating spiced corn on a terrace overlooking the fast paced streets and motorbikes of the old quarter I am debating if I should spend my last two weeks in Asia on the Thai islands or take a leap and go to Myanmar, but I keep getting distracted by a thought: what am I going to do with my life?

That Sylvia Plath quote about watching the figs of life fall at my feet feels more real than ever. What Asia has accomplished is giving a name to each of the figs. One is teaching yoga abroad, one is bar work around Australia, speaking Spanish on the beaches of Mallorca, calm Irishmen and sensual French men and determined Ausie men, a degree in international relations or business or policy… I’m no closer to choosing now than I was three months ago. All I know today is I’d like to learn to play the ukulele. I’d like to see the world. I’d like to write a novel and I’d like to change the world.

I have a lot of thinking to do.

I think maybe thats why I haven’t written. Too indecisive and too burdened by time. Not enough and too much all at once. If only I could live a thousand years or a thousand lives.

Without an ending, what’s the story? I have no conclusions so therefore I feel I have no point to make. Vietnam is a spectacular country. I have marveled at it for a month and still don’t know up from down. It is not easily summed up.

I’ll say one thing about the Vietnamese though – they are fucking smart. They are hungry for education and knowledge and they are ready to know the world. They intimidate me. They are an impressive people.

I’m sad to leave this place. Not Asia, but Vietnam specifically. I didn’t feel that way when I left Thailand or Cambodia. I’m still trying to pinpoint why.

I’ll be home on the 16th of July and I have no idea what that will mean for me. Has this trip changed me? Hell yes it has. Do I know who I’ll be when I get back? I haven’t got a clue.

But if this journey has taught me anything it’s that big changes don’t happen overnight. Everything that has led me here has been one small step forward at a time. One tiny decision can have forward momentum for years to come. I didn’t just decide one day to break up with my life and go to Asia. I made one small change after another towards a different life. When I get home, I’ll just keep going.

Someone said to me yesterday, “my greatest fear is living a boring life”. That’s not my greatest fear.

My greatest fear is looking back and realizing I was the single obstacle in achieving the life I wanted. That I was too scared, too confused, too indecisive to chase after my dreams.

I’m done doing that to myself. Asia is just the beginning.

Mui Ne, Vietnam

Our tour guide has a bit of a gambling problem, so we’re running late to the Sand dunes. He’s almost out of money so we get our hopes up but he wins on his last dong notes and goes for another round. I’m eating a frostbitten caramel ice cream off a popcicle before it melts and try to figure out the game.

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Army cap on, sallow ed cheeks he pockets his spoils and smirks when I ask if he’s won. Of course, we wouldn’t have left if he hadn’t. 

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It’s low season here so most shops are closed as you walk the one main road. The hot cement got poured seven years ago and it’s cut off the supply of sand to the beach so busy restaurants have begun falling into the tide.

Hot from the thrill of the win we speed and wind and gear shift around buses motorcycles and cows. We left the other tourists in our red dust cloud ages ago with a wave and a beep of the horn which echos outward as we speed through it. BEEP BEEP Beep Beep beep beep bee…

It’s a manual and it shifts hard. No seat belts.  No power steering.  No windows. The front seat door swings open on turns. We slam it shut but don’t slow Down.

It reminds me of my jeep rides through through the wild desert and my dad and I think of growing up in the adventurous West with saguaros and monsoons and sunsets.

When you grow up on adventure it doesnt seem so big a deal anymore. Give me a sled I want to slide. Give me the quad I want to ride. Why would you not?

Yeah I thought of my dad a lot today.

 I felt him with me when I threw an English guy on the back of my quad and shouted “don’t worry ive done this before!” while the throttle roared and the tires rocked through sand. Off roading in an old jeep? Yeah I’ve done that before too – I know this game – my papa taught Me.

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