CHEESE!

cheese!

During the week leading up to Semana Santa, I found myself having both an entire continent at my disposure and eleven days in which my only responsibility was exploring and eating. For a college student, this is pretty cool; for a “wanderluster,” this is heaven on Earth.

After much consideration and indecision, my destination of choice ended up being Italy. The land of wine, pizza, and gelato had been my dream for quite some time, and I wasn’t sure of the next time I would be gifted with 11 days of freedom and an international flight that would cost less than 100 euros. My itinerary: Milan, Florence, Verona.

To the dismay of many of my loved ones back home in the U.S., I chose to venture on this cultural and culinary excursion alone.

I mean, I knew it was the right decision. Pinterest knew it was the right decision. Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love knew it was the right decision. But that was the extent of unconditional, unwavering support for my solo travel. I apologize now for those who experienced anxiety due to my plans (i.e. Mom and Dad), but this turned out to be one of the most rewarding, exciting, relaxing, and transformative experiences of my life.

Though I could ramble for hours and hours, and have done so, about how Italy might be the most wonderful country in the world, I feel inclined to focus on what I learned from traveling alone for that extended period of time. As a young, virtually-inexperienced female traveler, it was a precarious adventure. After having done it and feeling incredibly positive about my trip, I would recommend that every person do it at least once in his/her life. But I have a personal mission to avoid sounding like the thousands of generic, cookie-cutter articles that would pop up on Google if you typed “solo travel” right now.

 

what a view!

what a view!

 

The most captivating part of my experience was the fact that despite not having a single travel companion for my journey, not once during the time that I traveled through Italy did I eat dinner alone.

I invite you to take a peek into Evening Number Four, a distinct highlight of Kayleigh’s Italian Adventure. (I’m hoping if this excursion was turned into a book or movie, it would have a more creative title than that, but they’ll pay someone to come up with that kind of thing.)

Our scene is set in Florence, Italy on the top of a hill-ish mountain. (Too small to be a mountain, too big to be just a hill.)

If you’re in Florence, the place most people will recommend that you visit is Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset. It’s a beautiful plaza which features a replica statue of Michelangelo overlooking the entire city, just as visitors are able to do at that location. My personal suggestion is that you intend to go there, but on your way up, I hope you stop and realize like I did that the close-by Palazzo dei Vescovi is actually the most wonderful spot. It has a beautiful little church, a complete lack of tourist crowds, and is much more elevated than the Piazzale. You have to climb a few stairs, but we could all use a little exercise, right?

So after I had my breath taken away by the Palazzo (I’m talking about the view, not the stairs), I walked down to Piazzale Michelangelo because, after all, I am a tourist. As I stood on the edge overlooking the city watching the sky grow purple, an elderly man spoke up beside me.

“My city. It’s beautiful, no?” he said.

I gave him a warm smile and simply uttered, “Amazing.”

Unexpectedly and unspurred, the man then began to converse with me. He spoke very broken English, but we were able to communicate through what little Italian I knew and the small bits of English and Spanish he knew. He described how he spent his life volunteering to teach Italian to immigrants so they could create a life in Italy, and how he’s taught people from all over the world. (“The immigrants from Asia are the best!”) He told me about his family, a wonderful wife and a 28-year-old son who travels for a living and has a passion for adventures. He even digressed to tell me that he’s bitter because he has no grandkids yet. The conversation arrived at him suggesting that I find an Italian boy and change my plans to go to Venice so I could have “romance,” and that’s where that conversation effectively ended. However, his last words to me were my favorite part of the encounter.

He took both my hands and said, “I come here every night. I choose one person to talk with. Tonight it was you. Grazie.”

And just like that, he was gone!

***WARNING: This is Hung and I’m highjacking this amazing post by Kayleigh to simply state that the old man was probably an old SAGE who imparted wisdom and power upon our intrepid traveler – every kung-fu movies has one such sage. I DEMAND to play the old SAGE if this were to be made into a movie. Okay, continue on Kayleigh.***

 

italy is pretty awesome

italy is pretty awesome

 

I walked to the bus stop to wait for the transportation back down the hill-ish mountain, feeling a nice warm glow settling over me, which was a product of my “authentic Italian experience” for the night.

But after 45 minutes had passed at that bus stop, I realized that the glow had faded and I was just cold.

If my mother and father are reading this, I want to make it clear that there were dozens of people waiting at the same bus stop as me, so I was not alone on the hill-ish mountain. However, I was standing there watching those dozens of people hailing cabs so they could travel the long path down to the city with more comfort and significantly less money in their pockets. I ran my fingers over the sole twenty-euro bill in my pocket with dismay.

Determined to not give in, I ventured about half a mile down the hill to where I knew there was another bus stop. Here, I shivered for about ten minutes before I met the next characters in my Italian adventure.

I came to know Sarah, the residential director of a college study abroad program in Florence, and her brother- and sister-in-law, all originally from Idaho, by our communal indecision of whether to give up on this wait for the bus that had long since exceeded an hour. Just as they began actively searching for a cab to drive up the hill, the lights of the bus flashed in the distance, and it felt like a life preserver being thrown to a drowning person. But maybe I’m being dramatic…

On the lengthy bus ride down to the city, we covered a lot of conversational ground. I learned about how Sarah had lost her husband to cancer, and the couple was her husband’s brother, Phil, and his wife, Marie. I listened to tales about each couple’s three kids and the summary of their vacation thus far, and they listened as I described studying linguistics and why I decided to travel alone. After a week of struggling through Italian and broken English, having a fluid, comfortable conversation with Americans was a mental oasis.

I was nothing short of overjoyed when Sarah invited me back to her apartment to dine with them and meet their kids. Once there, we continued chatting over wine and traditional Ribollita, a sort of bread and bean soup that is characteristic of Florence and highly recommended. The evening came to a close due to their early-morning travel plans, and they kindly walked me back to my hostel before we parted ways.

This is only one of the many nights during which I added new characters to my story, and each one was as surprising as the next. When I tell people about these experiences, they say “You’re so lucky!” or “I wish I was the type of person who could make friends so easily.”

But the fact is that I am neither of those things. I am not simply lucky, as proven by my horrible timing with the bus, and I am definitely not a social butterfly, as proven by the copious amounts of social awkwardness I display on a daily basis.

Travel can create these memories and stories for just about anyone. The people who travel often have open minds and adaptive spirits; they write other people into their stories. So when one is traveling alone and lacks the pressure to conform to the group dynamic of their travel companions, that circumstance is the place where magic happens. I whole-heartedly believe in the idea that we give off vibes to the people around us, and I could feel my openness for adventure flourish when I was in Italy. My opportunities were boundless, and it was in that mindset that I found the community of travelers that I view as a phenomenon. It is a community in which strangers become friends, and the distance that this world can put between people is minimized. I will stand by the belief that any attempt to reap the benefits of solo travel, whether it is taking a trip alone or splitting off from travel companions for a few hours, will open up opportunities beyond what is expected.

Travel truly is the best education.

What changes have you found in yourself or in your experiences when you travel alone?

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Crouching Kayleigh, Hidden Treasures - Solo Adventures through the Pugilist Lands

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Reading time: 8 min

My friend Johnny once told me he doesn’t travel because he could see the world through pictures I posted online. He was partly right. The technology evolution has allowed unprecedented data production and sharing. I would even argue that every corner of the world has been photographed and those pictures are available somewhere in cyber space – you just need to find them. Furthermore, the infinite number of videos now allows anyone with access to not only see but also hear the world. So it stands that no one really needs to leave the comfort of her home to “travel.”

Here’s the issue: you can only experience what the content creators choose to show you, which is often an idealized snippet of time and space – a static spatial representation of life.

So what might Johnny be missing? The bumpy train ride I shared with 4 elderly Japanese ladies whose lively conversation brought hope to my impending old age; the smell of incense and smoke playfully dancing in the wind; the soothing sound of bamboo rustling from the light breeze; the warmth of the morning rays breaking through the menacing sky; the feeling of utter joy biting into a lightly seasoned rice ball; the transformation that happened within; the myths dispelled; the labels disintegrated; the fear faced and conquered; the new memories made; the old thinking reimagined; and though I can capture and explain one or more of these things, I can’t capture and explain them all… nor do I want to; because, honestly, Johnny wouldn’t understand and it’ll waste my breath and time. Also, I’m a professional lazy person.

Why am I telling you this? Because Austin is awesome. Wait… what? See how lazy I am? I spent zero time and effort developing a sensible transition. The end.

New beginning: so I was in Austin last week and the oddest thing happened – I left with a very different understanding of this beautiful place than when I arrived. This stupid transformational thing seems to plague me wherever I go! Before experiencing Austin for myself, I thought it a typical everything-is-bigger-in-Texas-ranch-dust-cowboys-gun-tooting-Southern-charm-horses-horseshoes-saddle-dust-brown-fox-jumped-over-the-fence-kinda-place-with-a-lot-of-dust. Boy was I wrong! I had a most wonderful time frolicking amongst the wildflowers, swimming in waterholes so beautiful I dared not pee in them, and meeting people who left an everlasting imprint on my very soul. And as previously stated, I can’t explain it all and I don’t really want to. So here are some pictures to showcase the natural beauty of this wondrous place without any explanation whatsoever.

Go there and “see” it yourself.

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Hamilton Pool is a must visit

 

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*10-4, coming in for a landing

 

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refuel

 

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completely free area to watch birds up close (Inks Lake)

 

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no one was here but us

 

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it’s not even this pretty in Seattle – and we’re the “evergreen state”

 

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so pretty!

 

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let’s jump

 

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just so serene

 

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what a view!

 

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if there’s a waterhole to jump into… i’m there

 

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jump!!!

 

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you wanna fight? huh?

 

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let me join you!

 

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i could sit here all day

 

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the idyllic Inks Lake

 

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and this is in April?

 

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i’m too cool to smile

 

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just wildflowers everywhere!

 

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middle-earth

 

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grand entry

 

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gems! or not

 

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the famous speakeasy (illegal bar during prohibition)

 

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longhorn caverns – so cool!

 

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the mystery

 

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a walk along the river to Hamilton Pool

 

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this is like a fairy wonderland

 

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more Hamilton Pool

 

 

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AUSTIN, TEXAS,

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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!

 

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DESTINY-2

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