I feel like most people who travel have mixed feelings about “returning home”, or at least back to some sort of normalcy compared to the exciting adventures offered while away. There’s the I’m so excited to see my family and friends and sleep in my own bed!, the I never want to leave this place; how will I survive?!, and I don’t even know how to go back to normal life…, as well as many others I’m sure I missed. These were some feelings I experienced after moving back to the U.S. after five months in Spain. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

But how are you practically supposed to readjust to a life that used to be familiar but now seems foreign? The foreign has become your familiar, and the world just feels upside-down. A foreign coin falls out of the washer, the people in the street actually speak your native language (this still freaks me out sometimes), and going to the grocery store is a lot more expensive than you remembered. Me? I didn’t want to adjust. Readjusting means going back to how things were before, and I didn’t want that. Travel changes you. The people you met, the places you went, the ways your perspective and priorities changed… Reverting back to my former self wasn’t really an option.

Reading time: 5 min

With the days growing longer and warmer I’ve really only got 1 thing on my mind: getting on the water ASAP. While I do love the winter’s snowy retreat, there’s just something inherently amazing about soaking up sunshine and being warm all over, and there’s no better way to enjoy summer than to get a little aquatic.

Kayaking, rafting, and paddle boarding are my preferred methods for getting some vitamin D and exercise, but it hasn’t always been this way. Before I had my epiphany, I wasn’t very interested in water sports at all. Furthermore, I was also out of shape, making summer a less-than-enjoyable experience. I “dealt” with it. It wasn’t until I moved to Montana that I found my love and passion for the water.

When you first move to Bozeman, there is a rite-of-passage of sorts: you have to go float on the Madison or the Jefferson Rivers. Soaking in the sun, sipping on a chilled beverage and hanging out with friends should definitely be the first thing you do when you hit up Montana. The placid calm waters flow through some amazing country – that was my baptism, my first date, the spark that lit the fire for my future aquatic adventures.

After a season of floating on inner tubes on this very mellow stretch of water, a friend of mine and I decided to get air mattresses and tried them out via the Bear Trap Canyon on the Madison. They were definitely faster! But they were less maneuverable; I think you understand why.

Sevylor Carravelle

Sevylor Carravelle

Up higher in the canyon at Bear Trip, big whitewater can be found, but we never did anything too extreme on our floating monstrosities of air and vinyl. We did, however, know that we wanted to progress further; we just didn’t know how yet.

We needed to test out the whitewater rapids, and a trip down to the local big box store scored us some inflatable rafts like the Sevylor Carravelle above.

Ours actually weren’t as nice and we were paddling with our hands, but damn-it we were progressing! At least we felt like we were.

Again, another season or two went by and we were having a blast in our little boats. To be completely honest, I held those little rafts in pretty high esteem. They worked really well for what they were and we definitely put them through their paces.

But the performance still eluded us and now knowing that we still hadn’t found the magic bullet, we were stumped.

Until I got a phone call from my buddy, “Dude! I’ve found it!” Not knowing exactly what he’d found I humored him and asked what it was. “Packrafts!” was his answer.

NRS Packraft

NRS Packraft

This was the moment that unleashed the proverbial water sports Pandora’s Box unto us. These aren’t big box versions of rafts or some other boats that we tried to manipulate into something we could use. These were hard charging, big water ready, big boy toys. The ecstasy was real.

After we got our boats we started loading up on supplies like personal flotation devices (PFD’s), dry tops, and paddles. Before you know it, we were ready to conquer the rapids we’ve stared at for years – we were finally going to catch our white whale.


how can anyone resist this?

how can anyone resist this?


Since then I’ve been on the water every summer, finding new ways to get there and stay there. Kayaking, paddle boarding, heck even wake-surfing. Being on the water in the summer is almost as important to me as skiing in the winter. Without it, it just wouldn’t be summer.

Now something that makes packraft special is it’s portability. These whitewater boats can be rolled up and stored in a pack so you can take it just about anywhere: on hikes, on a plane, in your car, anywhere really.

Then we discovered stand up paddle boarding. Paddle boarding is awesome, you get great exercise and a chance to discover places that are hidden from the crowds. Paddle boards come in two distinct varieties: hard top and inflatable. While hard boards are great they lack durability and portability. They can chip and scratch or even damage something else. It also takes a lot of room to store. Enter the inflatable stand-up paddle board or iSUP.

These things are fantastic! They are portable, durable, fast and light. And technology has advanced so much that these perform as well as a hard SUP. The best manufacturers use high end materials resulting in really top notch products.

iRocker 10'

iRocker 10′


For example, the iRocker Paddle Board is an amazing “toy.” Made from military grade materials, it is super buoyant and nearly indestructible. These are affordable and work wonders!

Capable of holding 350 pounds but weighing only 28 pounds, this board is awesome as a starter as it comes with all the necessary equipment: paddle, pump, and storage bag are included and ready for your next trip to the lake or beach.

If you’re just starting out, finding flat water is a must. This part might be easy depending on where you live. Part of the adventure is traveling and finding some uncharted territory of your own to go explore.

One of my favorite spots for SUP is Lake Tahoe in California. The town is an awesome mixture of friendly locals those who, like myself, are looking for some outdoor adventures of their own. Lake Tahoe is incredible. You can see nearly 70 feet down in certain areas and the underwater views are beautiful to say simply.

Paddling in Tahoe, you have to realize that you’re paddling in over water from the Eastern Sierras in some of the most pristine forests and mountains on the planet. It’s absolutely amazing and totally worth the trip.


go find your adventure

go find your adventure


And all of this became possible for me when I took that first float in Bozeman. At that time, I was stepping into the unknown but the adventure helped to build the foundation for my outdoor pursuits.

Perhaps it’s time for you to find your inspiration. Go forth and adventure my friends!




Reading time: 5 min

NOTE: Greetings travelers, I’d like to introduce Kayleigh, traveling linguist and future UN interpreter, to our Up Up and a Bear family. Come, Word Magician! And enthrall us with your tales!

Off to Madrid! Adventure awaits...

Off to Madrid! Adventure awaits…


Here’s the thing, folks: Spanish seems pretty easy. This is especially true when you’re sitting in class at a universidad in rural Indiana. And even more when you’re talking to your exclusively-English extended familia from Michigan during Thanksgiving. You’re translating things like “I am going to the mall to buy a coat,” or “The professor is really nice,” and let me tell ya, you feel so cool spouting out this foreign language. You’re on the top of the world as you ask “Where are my shoes?” in Spanish and your zapatos are right there, but you feel great because you didn’t use any English to find them. Life is muy bueno.

Then you move to Madrid.

Picture this: I’m on the 8-hour flight to Spain, having just left my family and my home to see another corner of the world, and I’m already hearing Spanish all around me. Excitement brews for an hour, but then I realize that I can’t bounce my knee and smile for 8 hours straight, so I sleep. A few uncomfortable hours pass and I regain some consciousness (I wish I could paint a picture for you of how wonderful my hair looked at that point- come and get it, chicos), and I sit up with my headphones still in my ears and Panic! At The Disco playing on repeat. As I fumble unsuccessfully with my glasses, I see a blurry figure in the seat in front of me turn around to face my direction and say something that is drowned out by Brendon Urie’s voice in my ears. I yank my headphones quickly and decide that my glasses sitting crookedly on face will have to suffice so I can see him, and this is how the conversation goes:

Me: “Lo siento… ¿Qué?” (Sorry, what?)

Him: “aksladgoiehpaobropueoihaepubaepbiunpkfhauegbpeaughpsdfkdh”

Or that’s how it sounds when you just woke up, you haven’t spoken Spanish since the end of fall semester, and you’re all-around socially flustered. Only a brief moment passes as the Spanish words are forming and catching up in my brain and I’m processing all of it and-

Him: Oh. No Spanish. You no Spanish.


I don’t know which dropped faster, my jaw or my self-esteem. Mr. Español turned back around to face front, chuckling to himself, and I sat there completely dejected. He didn’t even give me a chance! Then my mind starts racing. Why am I doing this? Do I know Spanish? Will I be okay in Madrid? What if I’m not fluent at the end? Can I flag down that flight attendant and ask her to turn the plane around and make a bee-line for my English comfort zone? WOULD I EVEN KNOW HOW TO SAY THAT IN SPANISH?

So I freak out for 3 hours and that’s basically the end of that anecdote. That was three months ago.

Here’s the gist of the story: That was my very first experience as someone pursuing fluency in a foreign country, and it was terrifying. I wanted to scream at that hombre, “NO. I SPANISH. I SPANISH!” But he did teach me two very important lessons:

1) I needed to get used to that kind of situation, because it would happen about 100 more times in the next two months.

2) He was entirely correct.

There was so much to be learned. At that time, I did not Spanish. I had no concept of the difficulties with dialect, accents, slang, speed of speech, idioms, nada. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sure, 2016 is my sixth year of studying Spanish through school, and I was in an upper level class in college. I should be pretty proficient, right? Yeah, that’s what you would think. Then you meet a girl from France and she says she’s been studying Spanish for about a year and is completely fluent, and then goes on to talk about the 4 other languages she speaks.

I digress. This is not a rant about the American foreign language education system. That’s for another day.

Because today, we need to talk about how learning a foreign language sucks.

Learning a language is saying, “Lo siento, ¿qué? ¿Repite, por favor? ¿Otra vez?” over and over and over because you can’t catch all the words the first time something is said.

Learning a language is saying “muy bien” 200 times because you don’t remember any other adjectives when you’re under pressure.

Learning a language is having people hear you speak Spanish and then saying “Ohhh…. English?” and sometimes saying yes because you’re so frustrated.

Him: Oh. No Spanish. You no Spanish… That was my very first experience as someone pursuing fluency in a foreign country, and it was terrifying. I wanted to scream at that hombre, “NO. I SPANISH. I SPANISH!”


first glance of the majestic glass castle at Retiro Park

first glance of the majestic glass castle at Retiro Park


Your head hurts at the end of the day because your brain is always active as you contemplate an entirely new set of words. Hearing English is like a refreshing oasis for a split second before you return to slaving away at the Spanish that’s coming at your ears. There are days spent on the verge of tears because everybody in class is turning in an assignment about which you had no knowledge because it must’ve slipped through the cracks of your understanding. It’s similar to constantly banging your head against a wall, except the wall is constructed of vocabulary words and conjugations.

It’s a mess. That’s how one would describe learning a language.

With that being said, I should acknowledge that it is the most beautiful mess that I could ever imagine.

In spite of and including the former rant, I am completely head-over-heels in amor with the process that I’ve gone through in the past few months and that I continue to go through. Out of the frustration and struggle has come pride and tangible ability. There is no better feeling than realizing that there are MILLIONS of people in this world with whom you now have the power to comfortably communicate like you never could before.

Learning a language is incredible.

Learning a language is that moment when two people pull you aside in the airport to ask if you could translate between Spanish and English for them so they can communicate better.

Learning a language is the way you slip up using Spanish phrases during an English conversation, like saying “¿En serio?” to an American friend instead of “Are you serious?”

Learning a language is watching the transition in the attitude of Spanish natives when you adopt their accent and their mannerisms, and suddenly you are no longer a stranger, but simply someone who lives down the block.


embracing futbol at a Real Madrid game

embracing futbol at a Real Madrid game


I love Madrid, of that I have no doubt. It is a part of me now, it is a home. But when I return to the U.S. and I am missing Spain, my heart will simultaneously be aching for the Spanish language and for the experience of speaking and hearing it every day. It’s a beautiful, complex, rewarding language, and one about which I feel passionate. I identify the language with the culture and the people who have been so accepting and welcoming, and as a whole, I can’t help but have the utmost respect.

So as I scrawl dozens of new words in the margins of my notebook every day and torch my cell phone’s data by using the Google Translate app, I realize that this is exactly how I want to spend my life. One day I will be fluent in Spanish, and then I’ll move on to studying another language. I never want to be not learning all I can know about language. Because it’s a pretty amazing mess.

Ama lo que haces.

Love what you do.



For more stories related to learning a new language, check out these great articles:

Menorca reflects on the change in dialect in From German to Swiss-German: Getting around in Basel.

Want the best tips for learning a new language abroad? Read Els Mahieu’s guide: Tips for learning a language abroad.

Perhaps you’re thinking about going to Hungary; if that’s the case, check out 10 most useful Hungarian Phrases for Travelers by Shiv.

How to survive the language barrier is Jessica’s great guide – check it out!

You’ll be prepared to head to Finland with this great lesson from Shannon: Learn Finnish with me! The most useful Finnish words for travelers.

Es-tu Francais? I know a little French aussi, but not as much as Jennifer who will take you on a journey with her story: how I quit my day job and finally pursued my dream of speaking French.

Great resource for immersive language study abroad: language study abroad articles.


conquering one language at a time

“high” on life in Madrid



learning a new language

Travel on my friends…

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