58 Days Away

58 Days Away

Let me just say, I truly didn’t think I would last this long! 58 days away from home. That may not seem like a lot to some, but for me… someone who went to college an hour and a half away from my hometown, an only child and an only grandchild of a small family, and someone who was never really shipped-off to summer camp … 58 days away is crazy and quite an accomplishment! It baffles me that I spent an entire month in Australia, two whole weeks in Hawaii, and I’m rounding-out my second island on an 18-day adventure in New Zealand. It’s still so surreal, especially since I spent the last 11 years in little ol’ Waco, Texas. But, that’s what this past seven months has been about … expanding my horizons, challenging my norms, and stepping outside of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone. I’ve struggled with that phrase on this particular trip, especially in terms of my photography. Many of my photos are of beautiful landscapes. I’ve been lucky enough to traverse stunning islands and gorgeous parts of this planet, and it’s hard not to photograph things that move you to tears. But I sometimes get discouraged thinking, I’m not trying hard enough or I’m not branching out or stepping outside of my comfort zone with my photography … and then I remember, 58 days away. I did 36 on the road by myself across America. I flew to Scotland after quitting my job, packing up my apartment, and leaving my comfortable lifestyle (and salary) behind. So maybe the end of my comfort zone isn’t necessarily about photographing homeless people in the back alleys of Auckland … maybe for me, right now, it’s about pushing forward each day and living in the moment of this adventure. Of making it to day 67 and not coming home at day 35. Continuing on with a smile on my face as a white, American, 38-year-old female, exploring the world alone – hiking through cities, renting cars in different countries, driving on the left for thousands of kilometers, finding a new place to sleep and eat every one of those 58 days, and putting myself out there 8,000 miles away.

So, maybe this is more of a note of encouragement to myself … and a quick check in with my blog after 4 weeks … to say, keep going, you’re doing it! The great state of Texas, delicious mouthwatering Mexican food, and your adorable fuzzy pups are waiting for you whenever you’re ready. But for now … finish strong and keep going. Do it for those who can’t.

Solo Road Trip across America

Solo Road Trip across America

12,575 miles, 53 days, 31 states, and 1 little Subaru — what a great way to see and celebrate Fall in America! Last week, I made it back home to Austin, Texas, after spending the better parts of September and October on the road by myself. I loved the adventure—the open road, the changing of the seasons, the new sights, and the freedom to go wherever I wanted. It was everything I had hoped for and often dreamed of!

Julie Road Trip Map -SEPT AND OCT
My solo road trip route! The thinner west-looping line is my two-week September trip, while the thicker east-looping line is my Fall Foliage route.

My first trip started-off on a whim — I arrived home a little early from Ireland and had two weeks before my high school reunion, so I hopped in my trusty little Forester, opened the map, and said, “let’s just see where the road takes me!” The adventure took me to 10 states … up and out of Texas into the Midwest, across the beautiful open-spaces of Nebraska and Southern Wyoming, and into the gorgeous, prehistoric-looking lands of Utah and Colorado.

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My “fall foliage” trip was something I had wanted to do for years and was a big reason I didn’t take-off across the globe for months-on-end. Growing up in Texas, where Autumn consists of “brown and down,” I’d always dreamed of seeing the vibrant colors in New England — and my goodness, they did not disappoint! 36 days, 21 states, 7,845 miles, and endless landscapes of gorgeous color. From Austin to Albuquerque, across Route 66 to the Great Lakes, through fall colors of New England, down the rugged coastline of Maine to the crazy streets of NYC, across the Appalachian Mountains down the Blue Ridge Parkway, back to my home state of Texas! It was truly an epic road trip and my head is still swimming with visions of red, orange, and yellow leaves fluttering in the daylight.

And now, I’m in Austin for a few weeks—sorting through thousands of photos from the last few months, updating this blog (because I discovered it’s difficult to pull yourself away from the in-the-moment beauty to sit in front of a computer screen), and preparing for my next big adventure, which starts mid-December in Hawaii!

Also, a big thank you to everyone for following along on Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to check out my photography site for the high-quality, sellable images — ready and uploaded by Thanksgiving — and stay tuned for more content right here on Workday Wanderlust!

Photo Editing at Spider House
Sorting through TONS of photos at my favorite Austin coffee shop, Spider House. Stay tuned for more great images!

 

The First 100 Days

The First 100 Days

Today marks 100 days since I quit my job to travel full time! Even though it’s only been a few short months, it feels like an entire lifetime by since I was stuck in the 8-5 grind, trying to decide how to make a bold move in life.

And now, I wake up every day — usually in a different city — thankful and amazed that I have the opportunity to live the life I always imagined. Each day is a completely different routine and there are definitely ups and downs along the way, but somehow it feels like the perfect fit. Many days I’m not sure where I’ll be sleeping that night, and most days my travel direction is based only on a gut feeling or desire to see something new — and while that may sound crazy to some people, it’s been absolutely liberating. So far, I’ve traveled to 4 countries, 21 American states, and driven more than 14 thousand miles by myself! Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite places and sights along the way.

 

Packing Up and Moving On

Packing Up and Moving On

Whew! What a whirlwind. It’s been a little more than three weeks since I quit my job at Baylor and two weeks since I moved out of my apartment in Waco. It’s funny how change happens … you brainstorm the idea, craft a plan, start the ball rolling … and then all of a sudden, the reality of the moment is upon you.

Surprisingly, I found that quitting my job was fairly easy. I created numerous lists of what needed to be accomplished before I left and diligently checked-off each task, each week. I did my best to leave coworkers, bosses, and staff members with enough completed projects and detailed information to help in my departure — and everyone was extremely supportive of my big move. One boss even said, “THIS is how you quit a job!!” The real hard part was saying goodbye to the wonderful people I had worked with for 8 years.

​Moving out of my apartment of ELEVEN YEARS proved to be much more difficult. I knew I had accumulated A LOT of stuff over the years — I moved to Waco for graduate school in 2006 and stayed for two jobs with the university — but the sheer volume of paperwork, knickknacks, clothes, photos, dishes, etc., was overwhelming. I spent weekend after weekend going through every cabinet, notebook, travel bag, drawer, and closet. I gave myself two weeks off of work to sort, organize, purge and pack every single thing in my apartment, and in hindsight, I should’ve taken a month! 
I did learn some valuable lessons from the haze and chaos of moving:

  • You can’t do it all by yourself! I am a very independent person and try to do most things on my own. Moving is not one of those things. In the final hours of packing and purging, I had to cry out for help. Luckily, I have wonderful friends to came to my rescue and helped me finish the job.
  • Hire movers. Yes, it cost money but it’s worth it! Friends are fantastic but moving is hard work and it’s not their responsibility to move box after box of all of your crap!
  • There will be obstacles to overcome. I knew I would face challenges with moving, but I thought they’d be physical challenges. Mine came in the form of people — a rude Russian neighbor who had my car towed for parking in his reserved spot while I was loading boxes, an old friend of mine who came to help but wound up having a mental breakdown and locked himself naked and screaming in my bathroom (note to self, don’t ask a bipolar friend to help you move), and lastly an angry Russian neighbor who screamed profanities in my face and called the cops because the 15-foot Uhaul truck was parked in his $.33 a-day reserved parking spot. Oh, did I mention the Russian twice…yep, two weeks of chaos with that one. Ugh.

But in the end, some beautiful things came from moving out of my eleven-year stay on the Brazos river. I was reminded of the unwavering love and support of my parents, the kindness of strangers, and the importance of a support system. It’s taken me a few days to recover from the chaos of moving, but the bruises have healed, peace is restored knowing my possessions are safely tucked away, and my exhaustion from moving has finally subsided.

I believe there are signs in life that help validate or deter you from decisions. I loved my job, my apartment, and my comfort little life in Waco … but the last few moments truly validated my decision … that it is indeed time to move on and challenge myself with a new adventure!

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Today I Quit My Job to Travel for a Year

Today I Quit My Job to Travel for a Year

It’s true! I did something bold and brave and definitely a bit crazy. I left my stable, comfortable job at Baylor University and opted for the adventure of a lifetime. It’s not that I don’t like my job — it’s just that I want more out of life than being stuck behind a desk all day.

It all started nine months ago when I was struck with an epiphany. I had attended an event hosted by my department when all of a sudden, I was overcome with a surreal, almost out of body experience. I realized I was sitting in the midst of a triad—the perfect convergence of my past, present, and future. The event resembled so many from the early days of my career when I worked for the Baylor Alumni Association and hosted numerous, large-scale events for hundreds of people. The event I was attending that day was a good, quality event, but my role and responsibilities paled in comparison to the duties of my past. But the content of that event was life-changing. Three women formed a panel discussion on a small stage—two professional photographers and one financial advisor. The women shared stories of how they grew in their careers from humble beginnings to successful professionals by following their passion and landing (or creating) their dream jobs. And it hit me … “I have to do something more than what I’m doing right now.” It was the slap in the face I needed to truly ask myself the question, “What do I want to do with my life?”

That epic question had weaved its way through the patchwork of my life. As a child, the question was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my teens, “Which college do you want to attend?” In my 20s, “What career path will you follow?” All had good answers and each stage came with peaks and valleys, blessings and heartaches, trials and tribulations—but in my 30s, I realized the question became much more weighted. The thoughts and appeasement of, “I’ll follow my dreams one day,” all of a sudden turned into, “Holy shit, I’m 37 years old and ‘one day’ keeps slipping further and further into the future.” So at that small event on that life-changing day, for what seemed like the first time ever, I examined my life-options with no barriers attached.

What I discovered—the true unearthing of my passion—was that I had an innate desire to document the beauty of the earth, the people in it, and the stories waiting to be told. I knew I could no longer ignore my calling—I had to be bold and brave and step forward through fear to realistically give my dreams a shot. My life journey had led me to a place where I had no husband, no kids, and no mortgage—and instead of continuing to make excuses for why I could never do something so bold as to travel the world, I started researching the possibilities.

So here I find myself … after nine months of planning, years of speculation, and a lifetime of dreaming—and I’m actually doing it! I don’t know what the future holds or what beauty and speed bumps lie ahead, but I do know I’m finally willing to give this a shot—to pay respect to my dreams and stop ignoring my passion. And hopefully, at the end of this journey, I can look back and say—I followed my calling, I gave it my all, and I have no regrets with what might have been.

Fun and Sun in Cozumel

Fun and Sun in Cozumel

Ahh, the beach. The sound of the ocean, the feel of the sand in your toes, and the fruity little drinks with umbrellas—what’s not to love!? I recently traveled to Cozumel, Mexico, with a close group of friends for a little relaxation and adventure. There’s something wonderful about traveling with female friends that makes the experience richer, more adventurous, and somewhat freeing. Maybe it’s that conversations have no barriers and that every topic is fair game—from kids and husbands to boob jobs and botox!

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What I loved about this particular trip was the relaxation mixed with adventure. The photos do a great job of capturing the moment and I had so much fun renting old Volkswagen Beetles and cruising the entire island of Cozumel. The thrill of driving a convertible stick shift, the open road in a foreign country, and the hilarity of the missing parts on our 1960s bugs: one license plate, two rearview mirrors, a headrest, and a hubcap! But it’s Mexico—and all part of the adventure!

As with any good trip to the beach, there were also endless hours of sun and sand—and plenty of beautiful things to photograph. Hopefully, a few of my images will serve as an inspiration to start planning your own beach vacation today!

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A Winter Trip to Iceland

A Winter Trip to Iceland

Apparently, Iceland is all the rage now! When a friend suggested a trip to the small Nordic island in Winter, I thought it was a bit random and a little crazy, so of course I said yes.

As with any trip to unfamiliar territory, I started my research and brushed up on my geography. I was delighted to discover Iceland is home to glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal springs, geysers, and lava fields—plus, it’s located so far North it actually touches the Artic Circle!

Since Iceland is the new hot-spot for tourists (and there were A LOT of tourists), the recommended way to traverse the island is by double-decker tour bus. My travel group opted for two tours: a full-day bus excursion around the Golden Circle, and an evening adventure with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Both tours were wonderful and I quickly discovered why people visit in the winter—the breathtaking landscape and the Northern Lights!

In addition to the natural beauty of Iceland, I was enamored with the charm of the largest city and capital, Reykjavík. There’s a certain quirkiness about it with its vibrant colors and unique architectural design. I had fun trying to pronounce and decipher the Icelandic language on street signs and buildings—all part of the unique experience when visiting a new country.

Anytime you visit a new city or country, valuable lessons are learned along the way—either from your own experiences or from the people you encounter. Here are a few tips I’d like to share … for when YOU take the plunge and check out Iceland for yourself!

Tips and tricks for the future:

  • Expect high prices. Iceland was ranked the World’s 4th most expensive country in 2015 and the cost to visit keeps going up! Costs aren’t high enough to be a deterrent … but make sure you plan for New York City prices.
  • Rent a car. The large tour buses are nice, but if you’re looking for a little more freedom and authenticity, rent a 4×4 vehicle, block-off five days for adventure, and drive the entire Ring Road loop.
  • Pay attention to details. If you are going the tour bus route (which is the main mode of tourist transportation), make sure to pay extra attention to which bus is going where. Large crowds of tourists plus dozens of double-decker buses with similar destination signs in the window, equals getting on the wrong bus!
  • Northern Lights are not guaranteed. It may sound silly, but a lot of tourists think the Northern Lights happen all night, every night in the winter months. I learned that a lot of factors influence the Aurora Borealis forecast, including cloud coverage and solar activity. Be sure to check the forecast before you go!

kyla and NLights

New York in the New Year

New York in the New Year

This year, I decided to kickstart my yearly adventures with a trip to New York City. I love using federal holidays as my motivation for a vacation—and I knew the MLK weekend fell within the first few weeks of January. I scored a low-cost, non-stop plane ticket through my favorite, no-hassle airline, and I was on my way!

It’s easy to see why people fall in love with the Big Apple—the people, the buildings, the energy! Sophistication entwined with grittiness, midtown traffic mixed with tourists, and the palpable electricity of the hustle.

I enjoyed submerging myself in the sights and sounds of the city—getting caught up in the current from time to time, peddling as fast as I could to keep up and look like a local. My proudest moment (second only to successfully navigating the subway) was when a New York native exchanged glances with me while waiting for a newcomer to awkwardly enter the turnstile. “Pfft, tourist,” he scoffed. I, of course, echoed his sentiment with a slight eye-roll and smile, “ugh, I know!” I felt as if I’d just been handed keys to the city.

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Adventure, new sights and sounds, and lessons from another city are right around the corner. Throw a dart, pick a place, make a plan, save some funds—a new perspective is well within your grasp!

D.C. Cherry Blossoms

D.C. Cherry Blossoms

Easter in DC. What a great way to take advantage of a four-day weekend! I love planning a trip to a new city—and our Nation’s Capitol during Cherry Blossom season did not disappoint.

I wasn’t sure if the trees would actually be in bloom during the last weekend of March—but the holiday allowed for two days off of work and I landed a cheap flight through Southwest, so why not? Even if the blooms weren’t out in full force, there’d still be plenty to do and see.

Luckily, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect:

 

An escape from the 9 to 5

An escape from the 9 to 5

How many of us often find ourselves gazing out the office window—if we’re lucky enough to have one—daydreaming in meetings, or wistfully staring at those ready-made photos on the rotating screensaver? Thinking to ourselves, “I’d much rather be on a tropical beach with a Mai Tai in hand than doing another damn expense report.”

No matter the job, whether it’s great or horrible, people always need an escape. Escape from the boss, the coworkers, the meetings, the paperwork, the deadlines and demands, or just the responsibility of showing up every day, wearing the uniform, and punching the timecard.

For me, my escape is travel. I like my job, I’m happy to have one, and I enjoy what I do—but I LOVE to travel. It frees my soul, expands my horizons, and teaches me things about myself and about the world that I would never have known simply by sitting behind a desk all day. It makes me feel a part of something bigger and more important than me.

But it’s hard to always get away from the office—the demands rarely decrease, last minute projects pop up, no one’s there to cover your shift … the list goes on and on, of excuses and realities of why you just can’t get away. But isn’t it those times—the boiling point moments—when an escape is needed the most, or at the very least, the idea and the plan of a desperately needed vacation.

My goal with this blog is to share with you the best of my travel photos, for the days when you—when we all—are stuck behind the desk or knee-deep in the stress and demands of the job, and we long for a visual escape. I also hope my photos serve as inspiration for your own travels; to encourage you to use the time you have—whether it’s the weekend, or a holiday or one of those unused vacation days just sitting there gathering dust—and get out into the world. See something new or revisit a favorite spot on the map. It all starts with a dream, an idea—a desire to find relaxation and rejuvenation amidst the monotonous chaos of 9 to 5. Make a plan and start your journey today!